Sunday, July 31, 2011

An International Experience

After flying from Rome to Thessaloniki, we took a bus into town and were instructed by our next couch surfing hosts to find a minibus to take to their place.  After wandering through the city and asking several people, we finally found the bus stop for the minibus.  We weren't sure exactly what a minibus was but when it arrived, we saw a vehicle the size of a van and once you step inside it was set up just like a bus - makes sense, a "mini bus".  Our couch surfing hosts were really nice and cooked some delicious Greek food for us.  I even learned how to make a delicious Greek salad and authentic Tzatziki sauce!  Her name is Iliana which we loved because it is so close to our niece's name.

One day, Iliana and I were going to the supermarket which I assumed was a short walk away.  We started walking when suddenly she said, "Oh, I forgot - my scooter is parked over there!"  I didn't realize we were taking a scooter!  I climbed on the back - no glasses, no ponytail holder, no helmet (very out of character for me!) and held on for dear life.  With no helmets on, we were free to have a conversation and we discovered that we share the same birthday.  As we sped through the streets weaving precariously close between cars and buses, chatting about our lives, I kept wondering whether it still counts as a "white knuckle ride" if your knuckles don't turn white because they are naturally brown!  I think it does!

Thankfully, we made it to the store and back safely and Iliana even helped me shop for Matthew's birthday present so I could surprise him (it's hard to surprise someone when you spend 24 hours a day together!)  Another cute memory was the Greek kids in the neighborhood practicing their English with us.  One day as I sat outside checking my email on our host's laptop, I heard three little girl's voices suddenly ask in unison, "Do you have a boyfriend?"  They laughed and said, "Bravo!" when I told them I am married.  The girls also taught us some basic Greek words to help us navigate our way through the country.  Navigation in Greece was a little more challenging since this was the first country we visited where the script was different.

Our hosts also borrowed a car for the four of us to take a day trip to the Mount Olympiad area.  It was a fun day of hiking, drinking Greek coffee, and driving through the mountains. 

One of the craziest moments was when their dog started chasing a whole herd of goats through the mountains!  Thankfully the dog survived! 

We took an overnight train to Athens (probably a crazy decision after our last experience but at least we had seat assignments this time!).  We laughed after finding our seats on the train because just like in Rome, we found ourselves surrounded by Indians again!  It was not as enjoyable this time because they talked very loudly and even yelled at each other through most of our overnight ride!  In the morning when we arrived in Athens, we made our way to the Port to buy ferry tickets to head to a Greek island for a few days to celebrate Matthew's birthday.

We arrived just in time to hop on the ferry and head to the island Poros.  We heard that it's very easy to find a place to stay once you get to the islands so we didn't make any arrangements in advance.  As we boarded the ferry, the man checking our tickets asked, "Do you have a place to stay?" and proceeded to tell us all about his place and his cousin's hotels.  We bargained and after arriving at a fair price, we decided to stay at his cousin's hotel by the beach.  His cousin picked us up in a van and took us to the room.  We ended up renting a moped and had a great time driving around exploring the island, relaxing on the beach, reading, and celebrating Matthew's birthday.  His immediate family and a few friends had written him birthday messages which I printed out and gave him one by one throughout the day.  We had dinner overlooking the water, then I gave him the birthday surprise - a sketchbook and inside was a list of words describing him composed by his friends and family.  It was a pretty amazing list and I hope he was blessed by it!

The ferry back to Athens took considerably longer than the one departing Athens.  Our next couch surfing hosts were Slovenians living in Greece.  We stayed on an air mattress in the kitchen which was actually very comfortable.  Matthew and I really enjoyed many great conversations with them.  It was so natural spending time with them, as if we were already friends before we met.  We were sad when our time with them came to an end.  We cooked a meal together and laughed about the international experience of Americans and Slovenians having an Italian meal in Greece!

During the days in Athens, we explored the Acropolis, Parthenon, and saw the Changing of the Guard.

The 2am flight from Athens to Tel Aviv made me start to question our sanity with all these overnight travels!  I guess it's how it has to be when trying to stay on a tight budget.  Our arrival in Israel was quite memorable so check out the next blog post to read about it!

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